Party line votes override mayoral vetoes in Cranston

Posted 5/7/24

The Democratic majority held the opening gavel for nearly 30 minutes, waiting for their last member to arrive.

Without City Council Vice President Lammis J. Vargas, they only had five votes, one …

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Party line votes override mayoral vetoes in Cranston


The Democratic majority held the opening gavel for nearly 30 minutes, waiting for their last member to arrive.

Without City Council Vice President Lammis J. Vargas, they only had five votes, one short of the six they needed for a super-majority to override Mayor Ken Hopkins’ veto pen.

A half-hour after the meeting was scheduled to begin, the gavel finally banged and City Councilor John P. Donegan fired off line-item veto after line-item veto. All six Democrats voted to override each mayoral veto, and each override went rapid and smooth until Vargas’ conscience (rather than her late arrival) nearly held up the proceedings for a second time.

Vargas said she wasn’t willing to vote to eliminate $3,000 from the mayor’s Diversity Commission budget.

Then the meeting stopped. Donegan and City Council President Jessica M. Marino took Vargas behind closed doors. They emerged a few minutes later, sat down quietly, and Vargas reversed her vote.

The Net

Next year’s $325 million Cranston city budget has been working its way through the process. Roughly 56 percent of the budget will fund the Cranston School Department, according to Republican Mayor Ken Hopkins’ Chief of Staff Anthony C. Moretti. The rest will fund city services.

“I am not surprised by the actions of the Democratic majority city council,” Hopkins said after the meeting. “I remain disappointed in their irresponsible decisions to override all of my budget line item vetoes. This is clearly partisan politics.”

City Council, which has a six-member Democratic majority, and the mayor’s office, don’t necessarily disagree on the total budget number. They’re not arguing over beefing up the budget or slashing the budget. Essentially, at a special meeting Monday evening, they battled over line items, eliminating funding for some projects and changing the funding source for others.

Moretti stood to address the council after Donegan made a motion to eliminate the relatively small $3,000 line item for the city’s Diversity Commission.

“The mayor feels that this is an unnecessary reduction in diversity program opportunities,” Moretti said. He told City Council that the mayor’s office appreciates “being budget-minded, but putting this money aside would be beneficial.”

“In the last year or so, the funds haven’t been used, and the mayor wants to step up that commission,” Moretti said.

The Democratic majority said they wanted to eliminate multiple line items in an effort to push more money into city education. Donegan said eliminating line items like the Diversity Commission funding, would ultimately help “support the schools as well as address several challenges” facing the city’s libraries.

“For the past several years, this commission, which we all support, and we all want to see thrive, within our city, has not met,” Donegan said. “And for the past several years they have not spent a cent of any of the money that has been allocated to them … If there were programs that were planned, I think that this body would be supportive.”

Although he was voting to erase $3,000 in proposed funding for the commission, he suggested City Council would consider allocating far more in the future, if only the commission held regular meetings.

“If, next year, there’s a budget that puts this at $25,000 … or $50,000 … we would be supportive because we all want to see this thrive,” Donegan told his fellow councilors. “But the reality is it’s not meeting.”

Vargas told the rest of City Council that this was one vote she was “not going to be able to support.”

“This is one item that I would like to have in the budget,” she told the other five Democrats and the three Republican City Council members.

The discussion that changed her mind played out behind closed doors, rather than in open session. When she returned, she paused before voting with the other five Democrats.

Vargas’ initial failure to fall behind party lines had the potential of throwing the entire evening’s budget-balancing efforts off-kilter, according to City Council Legal Counsel Stephen Angell.

“The budget has to balance,” he told City Council.

If Vargas voted against the veto override for this single item, the entire budgetary process would be thrown off. City Council had already delayed the meeting a half hour beyond the publicly advertised meeting start time. And the city faced a May 15 budget deadline (set by the City Charter).

Late Start

On Monday evening, City Council had four meetings scheduled — the 5:30 p.m. Special Council meeting to handle the mayoral veto overrides, followed by Claims, Safety Services and Finance committee meetings.

“In order to guarantee a super Democrat majority required to override mayoral vetoes, Council President Marino held up calling the meeting to order for nearly one-half hour to facilitate Councilwoman Vargas’ late arrival to the meeting,” Moretti confirmed after the meeting. “Certainly, there was a quorum of eight of the nine council members present … when the meeting was scheduled to begin.”

Without Vargas, however, to repeatedly cast the Democrats’ sixth required vote (City Council needs six of nine members to approve a veto override), none of the overrides would have passed.

“This action made it clear that, without due consideration, the council president and majority desired to override all mayoral vetoes, as they eventually did, when the councilwoman showed up at 5:54 pm rather than the publicly posted start time of 5:30 p.m.,” Moretti argued. “Not only did this blatant delay give a bad look to city council conduct, this delayed commencement of the other three scheduled meetings which was explicitly disrespectful to the gallery of residents and business owners of the city waiting for their concerns to be heard.”

By the end of Monday evening’s first city council meeting, the gallery was packed full of business owners and their hired attorneys.

Bad Math?

According to Hopkins’ office, the budget overrides were not only political but bad financial decisions as well. Moretti presented a few slides to help explain the mayor’s perspective.

City council voted to fund several school capital projects with federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money, which needs to be spent by Dec. 31 of this year, or lost.

Moretti argued that the city stands to lose around $1.5 million in state reimbursement if the city uses ARPA funds for school-based capital projects (since the state has promised 74 percent school aid reimbursement).

At the bottom of the slide, in all red, capital letters: “VETO OVERRIDE = BAD MATH.”

“As a result of their actions to override, they displayed negligence by dismissing several prudent financial practices that I advocated for,” Hopkins said after the meeting. “Notably, these included: forfeiting over $1.5 million in school reimbursement aid for our school capital projects; using ARPA funds which creates a structural deficit for the next fiscal year; unrealistic increase in revenue requirements that will result in a structural deficit; and causing risk to public safety by reducing funding toward snow removal and traffic signals, along with other items.”

The mayor’s office and city council have received conflicting legal advice regarding the use of ARPA funds, project allocation and future reimbursements (the state may not reimburse for projects funded by ARPA funds, to avoid “double dipping,” as Moretti told city council).

“We had one attorney say that we could, and we had two attorneys say that their opinion was that we could not,” said Republican City-Wide Councilor Nicole Renzulli. “In my mind, two is greater than one … I do not believe that we should be using the ARPA funding in this way.”

Moretti proposed going to court, “not in an adversarial fashion,” but rather “in a cooperative fashion,” to see where the law “stands” on the use of ARPA funds. His suggestion was ignored.

“Additionally, the Democrat-controlled council declined to cooperate with me to pursue proper judicial process in clarifying the appropriate authority for utilizing ARPA funds,” Hopkins said Tuesday. “Instead, the council moved forward and unilaterally allocated millions of ARPA funds without executive department process. That’s just not good government.”

The six Democrats — Marino, Donegan, Vargas, Kristen E. Haroian, Daniel Wall and Robert J. Ferri — ultimately voted to steer $2,062,750 in ARPA funding to six school projects — an HVAC boiler upgrade at Cranston High School East; asbestos floor replacements at several schools and the city’s stadium. Renzulli and fellow Republicans, Richard D. Campopiano and Christopher G. Paplauskas voted against all the vetoes but repeatedly lost the votes 6 to 3.


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  • Right here

    All they had to do was look it up. These are lawyers, city councilors, and a city clerk. They have laptops and tablets in front of them. Did any one of them bother to do a search? This could have been easily solved. The answer to the question is on the internet.

    "How can cities use ARPA funds?" There's a list of how this money can be spent. ARPA is a one-time deal and these folks continue to waste time bickering. No wonder their meetings take so long!!

    I'll also mention that, in addition to being long, too many things get referred to another committee or 'tabled' and no one can find where the table is.

    Not for nothing, a simple search could have (at the least) pointed them in the right direction.

    Wednesday, May 22 Report this